Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM
Rated R, 130 minutes.
Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Asia Kate Dillon, Anjelica Huston, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Lance Reddick, Jason Mantzoukas and Yayan Ruhian
The concept of time, and how its relentless march affects fallible heroes, is at the center of JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM. Not only is this theme interwoven into the underground elite assassins’ mythos and characters’ verbal exchanges, it’s evident in the nuanced facets of the production design and carefully choreographed fights. Director Chad Stahelski hasn’t wasted any of our time with the previous installments of our loveable protagonist’s antics, and he’s not about to start doing it now. This is an eye-popping, jaw-dropping, show-stopping next chapter in the franchise that extends the world-building beautifully (as well as some vocabulary building), whilst assigning meaningful resonance to the character-driven action.
Once again, screenwriters Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams, working from a story by Kolstad, keep things lean, mean and clean. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has gotten himself into quite the pickle. He broke one of the guild’s strict rules: He killed a member of the High Table (Riccardo Scamarcio) inside the Continental for purposes of survival. And now, facing down an excommunicado order decreed by the aforementioned hotel’s manager, Winston (Ian McShane), Wick’s on the run through New York City. His attempts to clear his name, rectify things and repent will lead him to dealing with characters from his shadowy past – like The Director (Anjelica Houston), and Sofia (Halle Berry), who provides a parallel to Wick’s sense of loss and longing. He also tangos with a few new characters, like the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), who’s out to enforce strict punishment for anyone caught aiding and abetting Wick, and her henchman Zero (Mark Dacascos), who’s a fan of Wick’s work.
They ought to install seatbelts in theaters for this rip-roaring ride. With each ensuing chapter, Stahelski and company raise the stakes – not only in terms of the psychological impact, but also the inspired originality of the brutal action spectacle. The unrelenting first thirty minutes alone will make audiences slide off their chairs, cheer and squirm with glee. The sensational kills and practically-patented outrageousness weave a symphony of bombast and beauty, angst and adrenaline.
Wick’s travails throughout the city-turned-battlefield lead to iconic set pieces: The close quarters fight in the library bestows helpful tips on self-defense with a book. The fisticuffs in the armory are a master class in sound design with a finely-tuned cacophony of grunts, punches, bone crunches and glass breakage. The Chaplin-infused sequence in the upscale stables is indelible and unforgettable. Each round leaves us as breathlessly exhilarated and satisfyingly exhausted as the eponymous hitman.
Reeves’ fight in the Administrator’s all-glass office against Silat superstar Yayan Ruhian is an all-timer, best emphasizing the brilliant work of everyone involved. Characters embrace levity in a self-reflexive manner, yet it manages to shift effortlessly into serious undertones. Production designer Kevin Kavanaugh peppers the location with glass cases filled with crystal skulls (symbolizing fragility) and Japanese armor, casting Wick as an urban samurai trapped in a glass case of his own making. The adjoining edges of the glass walls reflect cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s light, forming a bright, caged-in look, reflective of Wick’s ongoing imprisonment. He shapes a fantastical, neon-lit odyssey so entrancing, it’s tough to pry your eyes away for a second. The video screen behind the desk plays highly saturated, artistically-distorted imagery of elements like wind and water when agitated. This mirrors the filmmakers’ thematic commentary on the organic, fluid nature of grief, pain, action and consequence – all things Wick is wrestling with metaphorically and physically.
Though the momentum takes a well-earned, necessary breather after the gripping Moroccan market sequence that deploys dogs into the mayhem, the electric energy is perfectly sustained throughout the run time. Performances from the cast bolster the sinewy storyline. Highlights include Lance Reddick, who’s given more to do than just dog sit and be the best concierge in the world this time around, and Dillon, whose commanding, magnetic presence is a welcome addition. But it’s Berry leaning into the fray with refined stoicism and swagger who steals the spotlight. Her work here begs for a spin-off.
These hits just keep on coming and the proceedings only inspire more killer artistry to savor.
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM opens on May 17.